Texas lawmakers have tough questions for Dallas County Schools on the heels of an exclusive NBC 5 investigation into land deals by the bus agency.
For months NBC 5 Investigates has uncovered serious financial mismanagement and safety concerns at DCS.
NBC 5 Investigatesreported Monday that DCS sold taxpayer-owned school bus lots to get quick cash as the agency was was sinking into financial trouble. But then DCS leased the land back from the new owner at a huge cost to taxpayers. Plus, a man with connections to a program that got DCS into financial trouble in the first place profited from the land sale.
DCS officials were in Austin to defend the agency Tuesday against a bill that could end in the agency's demise.
At the start of the hearing in the House Committee on Public Education, State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) handed out a copy of the NBC 5 Investigates report, which also appeared on the front page of Tuesday's Dallas Morning News.
The reaction from lawmakers was swift.
State Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) asked Interim DCS Superintendent Leatha Mullins to explain the land sale.
Mullins replied she was not involved in the deal, which happened before she took over as interim superintendent.
Gooden then said he believes the information about the land deal revealed in the NBC 5 investigation is so serious DCS should call in law enforcement to investigate.
"I would pick up the phone tomorrow and maybe call other law enforcement folks to come tomorrow and maybe do a quick audit, if you all have nothing to do with what developed," Gooden said. "Because this article is very serious. I can't impress that enough."
"It is very concerning to us as well. We were not a part of those decision making processes, and none of the people who were no longer with our organization who made those deals," Mullins said.
State Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park) pointed out DCS Board President Larry Duncan was with the agency when the land deal was made. Meyer questioned why Duncan was not present at Tuesday's hearing to answer questions.
Mullins said she couldn't answer for him.
For weeks Duncan has declined to answer questions from NBC 5 Investigates about the land deal. He has only said that the DCS administration handled the details of the transaction.
Former DCS Superintendent Rick Sorrells has also refused to answer questions.
Earlier Tuesday, State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), who has been the most outspoken critic of DCS in the legislature, reacted to NBC 5's reporting.
"All the things you brought up in the article about the land deal and everything about that, look, if this stuff isn't illegal it sure should be illegal. And it's a burden to the taxpayers," Huffines said.
DCS announced Tuesday it is hiring a new auditor – a former state auditor – to come in and look at what happened to the finances and to develop what the agency is calling a corrective action plan that would be ready by fall.
The question is whether that's fast enough for lawmakers.
They have less than two weeks before the legislative session ends to decide on a bill that would let Dallas County taxpayers vote on shutting DCS down.